I just celebrated 25 years working for Nabisco & Kraft Foods. I’ve been blessed to have a rewarding career at a great company and to work with so many terrific people along the way. I’ve developed many strong friendships over the years and I’m very thankful for having spent the last quarter century (half of my life) at the same company. As I reflect upon the last 25 years, I think of the varied interesting and challenging assignments I’ve had and the opportunities that lay ahead. I also remember so many funny situations. Here’s a few of my favorites. Let me know if you think they warrant another chapter in my book, “Put It In Your Act!”
It was my first year with Nabisco. I was clearly on the fast track as I was quickly promoted from a Micro Computer Analyst to a Senior Micro Computer Analyst. With the promotion came new increased responsibilities. I developed a program to ensure that all the equipment used in making Baby Ruth & Butterfingers was cleaned according to protocol. I had flown into Chicago’s O’Hare airport, rented a car and was on my way to the hotel excited to visit the plant at Franklin Park the next morning, where I would train the midnight shift right before they left at 5:00 AM. I needed to get gasoline and pulled into the first stations I saw. I waited, and waited, and waited but nobody came to my car. There clearly was a person in the small glass storefront so I got out of my car and walked up to the window. A young woman asked if she could help me and I said, “Yes – I need some gasoline.” She said, “So, go pump it.” I was a bit confused. In New Jersey, it’s against the law to pump your our own gasoline. I think they’re afraid folks would fill it up and then take off. In any event, I didn’t know how to pump my own gas. I was 25 years old, and although I was good at software, I had little experience with hardware. I read the instructions, but had no clue what I was supposed to do. I went back to the window and asked the young women if she would help me. She asked if I was drunk. I told her I was from NJ and never pumped gas before. She laughed and quickly filled up my car. I thanked her, paid her and embarrassingly drove away looking for the next jug-handle so I could make a U-turn.
I received a wake-up call at 4:00 AM and felt fortunate that with the 1 hour time change it really only felt like 5:00 AM. I put on my 3 piece suit (the garb of corporate America in the mid 80’s) and drove to the plant. I could smell the roasted peanuts as I left my car and entered the security office. I flashed my ID, signed in and checked my watch, college ring and put on a hair net as instructed by the guard. I was met by the plant manager who promptly gave me a tour of the facility. I felt like I was walking the floor of a maximum security prison. Everyone there was enormous, muscular and quite tough looking. A few pointed to me and said mockingly “Look at the suit”. In any event, I proceeded to demo my cleaning program to the Quality folks at the plant. My hour training session went well and my task was done. I asked where the bathroom was, and made my way there. The bathroom here was quite different than the main office in East Hanover, NJ. It was more like a men’s locker-room. I walked past the lockers and mirrors to find this big white porcelain circular vessel that had a circular foot bar near the ground. When you stepped on it, water dripped down the top. I’ve seen a lot of urinals, but this one seemed kind of weird. I un-zipped and was about to relieve myself, when a big guy off the plant floor shuffled in, stepped on the metal bar and began to wash his hands. If he came in just a second later, I would have been a dead man.
A few years later, I attended a corporate event in which our president was addressing a crowd of about 500 employees at a nearby hotel auditorium. It was the usual corporate pep rally in which the obligatory slide show consisting of candid shots of my fellow colleagues was displayed with the song “Simply the Best” blaring out of the PA system. I arrived late, and spotted a woman I knew in the center of the room with an empty seat next to her. I made my way through the room and sat down next to Judy. I whispered hello to her and noticed that she was hunched over and shaking slightly. I thought she might be crying, so I asked her if everything was alright. She stuttered that things were fine, but she couldn’t stop laughing. Within 30 seconds, I too had contracted a nasty case of the giggles. People near us were looking at us as we emitted the occasional loud snicker. It felt like my head was going to explode. It was a relief when the talk was over and we could regain our compsure.
We actually had it pretty easy back in the day. We worked hard but we also had fun. During lunchtime in the fall, a group of programmers would walk across the street to a field and fly stunt kites. The experts in our group were able to perform tricks, have the kites make noise and dive down almost to the ground and then instantly go straight up again to the heavens. When the wind was really strong it took all of one’s strength to control these kites. On a very windy day after a few days of steady rain, I got the chance to hold the reigns of a kite. A gust of wind suddenly picked up, got behind the kite and began to pull me. I fell down in the mud and it actually dragged me across the muddy field. A few of the guys were able to control my kite, but I along with my suit was totally covered in mud. Upon returning to the office, my boss poked his head into my cube and asked how I was making out with some coding. I had to stick my head around the corner of my cube and answer him while hiding my mud-covered suit from his view. This wasn’t the first time I had to hide from him. Once Pat Heidrich told me that I should tie my necktie in a full Windsor knot. I was far from an expert at tying ties and occasionally resorted to clip-ons. I untied my tie and gave it to Pat, who promptly slipped it on and tied a beautiful knot and was just about to loosen it and slip it over his head to give to me, when our boss showed up. This time I had to hide my tieless shirt and Pat quickly flipped one of his two neckties over his shoulder. We were glad when business casual was invented.
I don’t want to brag, but I got to work on the first client server technology database implementation at Nabisco in the early ‘90s. One of the Marketing finance guys wasn’t happy with his username that was needed to gain access to the SQLbase application. The algorithm used to create an ID was last name, followed by first initial. Tim Bilrun was not at all happy with his BILRUNT ID and requested that Ralph have it changed to something less diminutive. Ralph had to ask the database administrator, Al to have it changed. Al said, “No way! If I break the rules for Tim, I’ll have to break them for everyone else and I ain’t going to do that!” Ralph was clearly upset. How was he going to break the news to Mr. Bilrun? That’s when Pat Heidrich, Judy Hoffer and I sprang into action. We created an email to Al requesting a few SQLbase ID’s for the Cookies & Crackers Marketing Team. Nancy Tampo, Teddy Toyle, Todd Farr, and Stuart Ball all needed IDs and Passwords to access the system. About an hour later, Al phoned me, said he created the Marketing IDs and that I should come to his office and get them. I showed up and Al was quite serious. He said, “Ok Lar; Nancy’s ID is T-A-M-P-O-N – wow tampon” and he chuckled. I played along acting surprised. Then he said “The next one is Teddy. His ID is T-O-Y-L-E-T – Ha – Toilet!!” and he laughed again. Once he delivered the next ID, “FART”, it dawned on him that this was not a coincidence. His face turned red, he became agitated and said, “Get the F*** out of my office and don’t waste my time”. He didn’t talk to me for about a year, but he did let Ralph know that Tim’s ID was changed as requested.
In the mid-90’s my team was conducting training in a Trade Spending application with the sales force in Chicago. My wife had a childhood friend that lived in Buffalo Grove, a northern suburb of Chicago and we decided to drive there along with our 18 month old son Eric. Robin could spend time with Hayley and her young kids Jordana and Scott while I was at my week long training session. Our plan was to leave really early on Saturday morning and then be able to spend time seeing Chicago with our friends before my work started on Monday. As fate would have it, just as we left our condo for the big trip, the snow began to fall. It wasn’t just flurries, but a blinding blizzard. We were excited about the trip, so we ignored the 10 or so jackknifed tractor trailers we saw along the way. We arrived to our hotel late that evening a bit white-knuckled and ready for bed, but excited to see our friends in the morning. We sampled deep dish pizza at Giordano’s with pepperoni accompanied by a few brewskis for lunch. Later that evening, I tried some Polish sausage, Garrett’s Carmel Corn and a few other Chicago favorites. Everyone commented on how much food I was able to pack into my body. We headed back to the hotel and I was eager to meet my colleagues the next day for our training session. I awoke that night with some sever bed spins at about 3:00 AM and headed straight for the bathroom. That seems to be the time that most people get the urge to vomit. I had made a number of similar trips to the bathroom and by 8:00 AM, I had a splitting headache, stomach ache and fever of 102 (measured with the ear thermometer we brought just in case Eric was teething). I left a message for my boss that I must have some type of stomach bug. Robin and Eric felt fine and toured the city with Hayley the next few days as I languished with a fever, chills and other nasty symptoms. I began to feel better by Thursday evening and for the first time in days, left my hotel room to attend the last dinner of our weeklong meeting. I sheepishly greeted all the attendees and sat down for dinner. When I began to catch a whiff of the Salmon with Tarragon cream sauce, I had to make a dash for the room and got into bed and slept for the night. I felt better on Friday and we made the long drive home. The next week, my boss didn’t seem very pleased when I asked her to sign my $1,500 expense report.
We had more adventures as the family accompanied me on another trip to Chicago. This time, I was working at the FMI annual Food Show showing our award winning recipe website. I manned the Kraft Foods booth for a few days and then we were going to take a few vacation days to tour Chicago and then visit Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I met my family at the end of the day back in our Chicago Hotel in time for Happy Hour. The hostess said that as a Hilton Honors Club member, I could get top-shelf drinks for free, so I ordered a Tanqueray Martini, Robin got a glass of white zinfandel and our boys Eric & Alex got Shirley Temples. As we began to relax, Alex had to go to the bathroom so Robin took him back up to the room. My drink was a bit strong and after a few sips, I made my way to the grand piano within the bar area and played the intro to “Come Sail Away”. A guy in the back screamed “Styx!!!” and then motioned for Eric and me to join their table. He asked what we were drinking and offered to buy us a round since he was a big Styx fan and I found myself drinking my second Martini. They were also attending the Food Show and were joint owners in a company that makes Hot Sauce. Their big seller was called “Too Fargin’ Hot”. One of the guys was a drummer and he was giving my son Eric advice on how to drum. Eric kept asking me if he could go to the gift shop and I really don’t remember saying yes. Anyhow, the guys were going on about how Kraft should market their sauce when Robin called me and said that when Alex flushed the toilet the room flooded and we were moving rooms. She asked why I was so calm about the room mishap and I said it might have to do with the 2nd Martini. She asked to talk to Eric and I noticed he wasn’t with us. The guys asked if I want another drink, but I thanked them and excused myself and shortly thereafter found Eric in the gift shop. We returned up to our new room and left the next morning for Cleveland.
Cleveland was fun and we stayed in an Embassy Suites so the kids could get their own room and everyone could get free breakfast. Each room had a TV and as I was flipping through the channels I stumbled upon an adult station that wasn’t scrambled. As I sat on the bed watching intently, Alex walked into our room and said “What station are you guys watching”. I quickly said, “Nipple-odian” and promptly turned off the TV. Our trip was winding down and although we had lots of fun, I was getting a bit stir crazy travelling with our two young boys. Our last breakfast at the hotel was the last straw. My son Eric likes bacon. He really likes bacon. When we entered the dining room, he made a beeline for the chafing dish that held the bacon. He grabbed a tray, no plate, no napkin, no silverware, just a tray. In fact I’m not sure it was even a clean tray. The rest of us calmly visited the breakfast buffet stations and sat at a table. Shortly thereafter, Eric reached the table with about 100 strips of bacon piled high on the tray. I lost it! I began to yell at him for his atrocious manners, poor nutritional diet, etc. Robin tried to diffuse the situation by taking Eric’s tray of bacon and placing it on any empty table in the far corner of the dining room. She then got a more sensible assortment of food that would be more proper for a ten year old and placed it in front of Eric. Eric said apologetically, “I was just trying to get enough bacon for all of us to share.” At that same moment, one of the hotel staff approached the tray of bacon on the isolated table. She literally looked around and scratched her head. I didn’t speak to Eric again until we entered Pennsylvania and I continued to interchangeably call him bacon-boy or Oscar Mayer for the next few weeks.
One of my most enjoyable assignments involved managing the e-commerce gift website for Nabisco in the late 90’s. We had a gift and collectible catalog featuring Nabisco themed items. One weekend, I was remotely connected to monitor our online ordering activity. It was very exciting in those days to see orders coming in from around the country. I noticed that a woman in nearby Manville, NJ had just ordered a Mr. Peanut ceramic mug. I’m a big Planters Peanut collector and have hundreds of items all featuring Mr. Peanut on them. I considered putting on my Mr. Peanut costume, along with cane and gloves and driving to her home to deliver the Mr. Peanut Mug, but thought it might freak her out. That would have been great customer service.
My last recollection might not seem that big of a deal, but it had a great impact on me. I was having lunch outside on our beautiful patio on the East Hanover Eagle building campus with my colleagues. Here’s when it happened: Lee Reynolds was eating her salad when a yellow-jacket landed right on a piece of lettuce in her bowl. A few people would freak out, run, get a new meal and sit inside the cafeteria, but not Lee. Like an all pro wide-receiver who doesn’t break stride while catching a ball and fighting off the defense, Lee took a bite of salad, told a story about her husband cutting a tree branch while standing on their mini-van, took a napkin and squashed the bee and flung it, and without missing a beat, took another bite of salad and continued her story. That is pure talent!
I look forward to more interesting tales as I begin my 26th year with the company. Cheers.